Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Sunday Morning Epiphany

I love epiphanies. I was thinking about a story cupboard post when this question popped into my head, "What will you do to survive?". Hmmm. Every story, in every genre, is about survival in some shape or form. Our characters, both good and bad are trying to survive. No, really, think about it.

In mystery/crime you have characters trying to evade the cops (or the PI, amateur sleuth, etc.) so they don't have to go to jail, cops are trying to catch the bad guy without getting killed. They're each trying to survive in their own way.

In sci-fi, you've got your lost in space survivals, surviving the Apocalypse or an alien invasion, or being taken over by machines. Will they fight back or just crumble in a heap and die? What will they sacrifice to save themselves or their families?

With Westerns or adventure stories, sometimes it's just a matter of trying to survive nature, then you toss in the Natives or the bad guys and it's a matter of surviving a gun fight or hanging onto your scalp or stepping out of the way of a poisoned dart.

Romance and literary work also have the same survival patterns but on a lesser level. Will she survive if she doesn't find love? Will she survive if she does? And with literary will your character survive her angst?

Even Fantasy is about survival, think about Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole or stepped into the looking glass. Her whole journey in both of these setting was surviving so she could return home.

With a survival scenario you have to ask your character what will they do to survive? How far can you push them before they start to push back or break down? Will a woman trade her body or a man his honor to survive? Will you kill for the person you're with or just walk away? This is your character's conflict, it's what makes a story move and engages the reader.

So if your story is stuck, go ahead and ask "what if?" but also toss in the question "what will this character do to survive?" Push them, see what they're made of. Surviving life and what it throws at you is always surprising.


Chris Rhatigan said...

Good point, Sandra. Hadn't thought about it that way before but this is a wellspring for quality stories.

sandra seamans said...

I'd never thought of it either, Chris, but it does give us another way to look at stories besides the "what if?" approach. The more options the better!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Oh, thanks for this, Sandra, I needed this post write, I mean, right today.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Asking questions like this one helps any story, doesn't it? Sometimes I think I am done and then such a question occurs to me and it's back to the computer.